PORTSMOUTH — Transportation officials in Maine and New Hampshire are declining to comment on claims that negligence by the two states played a part in the tanker crash that damaged the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge.
In April, the states filed a lawsuit against the owners of the Harbour Feature, a 473-foot-long cargo ship that drifted sideways into the bridge, leaving an estimated $2.4 million in damage. The ship had been tied up at the state pier in Portsmouth before the accident.
The lawsuit alleges the incident occurred because the ship’s crew “failed to properly secure the vessel at her berth,” resulting in the “parting of her mooring lines.”
On Tuesday, the ship’s owner, Sechste Nordtank-Hamburg, and its operator, TB Marine Shipmanagement, filed a response to the lawsuit in federal court in New Hampshire. They are denying allegations of negligence and asking a judge to dismiss the suit.
The ship’s owner is also arguing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Maine and New Hampshire, are “guilty of negligence” to a degree that should bar them from recouping repair costs or reduce the amount of any judgment against it.
Reached on Friday, Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said he isn’t able to comment on the allegations because litigation is pending. Talbot noted the ship’s owners haven’t specified the manner in which they claim the states were negligent.
“We’re going to pursue this action on behalf of the Maine taxpayers to recoup the money for this damage,” he said.
A spokesman from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation declined to comment on the matter Friday.
The bridge, which links Maine and New Hampshire, closed to vehicle traffic for more than one month after the April 1 accident while repairs were under way. It reopened on Monday, May 13.
The U.S. Coast Guard is continuing to investigate the factors that caused the Harbour Feature to break away from the state pier. Michael K. Brown, lead attorney for the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, said the Coast Guard has rendered some preliminary reports that support the states’ lawsuit.
“There certainly has been progress as we continue that investigation, but it has not concluded,” USCG Lt. Nick Barrow said Tuesday. “Usually these are very involved, as you can imagine.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services